Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he trusts the Irish people to make the right decision “based on compassion” in an abortion referendum next May.
Cabinet ministers voted unanimously to hold a referendum asking voters if they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment which gives equal status to a mother and her unborn child.
Mr Varadkar told reporters on Monday night that the constitution is not the place to deal with an issue that is “not black and white”.
He revealed that he will be supporting the introduction of a regime that allows abortion up to 12 weeks through a GP-led service.
The public will be asked on the ballot paper whether they wish to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace it with an enabling provision giving the Oireachtas explicit responsibility to legislate in this area.
In confirming his position in favour of recommendations allowing abortion up to 12 weeks, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the reality is that Ireland “already has abortion, but it is unsafe.”
He said “women from every county are risking their lives” by obtaining abortion tablets through “the post.”
“Abortion is not a black and white issue; it is a grey area” but we can’t continue to “criminalise our sisters and friends” he said.
But there will be “restrictions” said Mr Varadkar of the likely legislation.
Abortion tablets won’t be available “over the counter”.
But he said if the referendum is passed abortion will “no longer be an article for the constitution.”
It would then be “safe legal and rare” but if the referendum is “defeated, the law will remain as it is now.”
“As minister for health I became convinced that abortion had no place in the constitution” said Mr Varadkar.
Of the most compelling cases was that of “Miss Y” a migrant woman was turned away from an English port when she went to the UK for an abortion. “She went on hunger strike and became suicidal” said the Taoiseach.
He said doctors should “refer to clinical guidelines and not Bunreacht na hÉireann” when making vital decisions about patients’ health.
The Taoiseach said it’s “high-time people” were asked to vote on this question when “nobody under 52 has had a say on the matter”. “I was four in 1983, Simon Harris wasn’t even born” he said.
He pointed to the fact that the the majority of Irish abortions have taken place in the UK, but the Taoiseach said as a Government “we are no longer willing to export our problems.”
Minister Simon Harris will publish the Referendum Bill and the month of March will be dominated by the bill with the referendum taking place in the month of May.
There was “diversity of opinion” around the table on recommendations allowing access to abortion up to 12 weeks without restriction, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
A senior Catholic bishop has said that if abortion laws are liberalised in Ireland then similar arguments will be used to 'justify ending the lives of frail elderly people and people with significant disability'.